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5 Easy (and Inexpensive) Ideas for Improving Virtual Speakers

Including recommendations for four products that will make home-based speakers sound and look better online

Event planners might find themselves caught up with the logistics of running a virtual event, but they ignore speakers at their peril. Engaging a crowd through a screen is very different from delivering a talk to a room full of participants. 

Here’s how to give your virtual event’s speakers the best opportunity to succeed:

Upgrade Speakers’ AV
Content is what makes your event valuable, but in order for your audience absorb it they need to be able to see and hear the presentation clearly. A 360p webcam built into an older PC laptop won’t deliver, nor will its built-in microphone. However, it doesn’t take a large investment to raise virtual speaker AV quality to the next level. Here are my recommendations: 

Webcam: Logitech C920 HD Pro can be found online for under $100. This 1080p webcam will deliver a great image and has a decent built-in microphone. (That said, I’d recommend either a dedicated mic or headset.)
Microphone: If you’re going with a dedicated microphone, the Blue Snowball is about $49 and comes with an adjustable stand. It’s easy to connect via USB.
Headset: If your speakers prefer a headset to a standalone microphone, then a simple set of AirPods can do the trick. There are so many headsets and preferences out there but AirPods have become a standard, and audio quality is usually very good.
Lighting: Search Amazon for a USB-powered “ring light” and you’ll find multiple options for about $20 that come with adjustable stands and multiple warmth and intensity settings. It takes some fine tuning, but speakers can dramatically improve how they appear.

If you have the budget, send every speaker (or at least your keynoters) top equipment that's plug and play with their computer, as part of their gift bag. This will ensure excellent delivery of the content your attendees are waiting for.

Provide a Webcam and Lighting Optimization Guide
Here are three simple tips to share with your speakers to ensure your attendees stay focused on the content:

• Eye contact matters, even in a virtual presentation. Encourage speakers to place their laptop on a stack of hardcover books to bring the webcam to eye level to help with this.
• An organized bookshelf always makes a great background. If you’re using Zoom, explore their potential backgrounds and suggest simple, elegant filters or branded backgrounds that keep the focus on the speaker and reinforce your event branding.
• Share screenshots and examples of good and bad lighting conditions. A simple Google search will show lots of screenshots and images that illustrate “do’s” and “don'ts.”

Get Ahead of Network Issues
As basic as this sounds, speakers must have a reliable Internet connection with at least 10 Mbps (preferably 25+ Mbps) of download speed and at least five Mbps of upload speed to ensure their feed is consistent and doesn’t fail.

Ask speakers to run a speed test and email you a screenshot of their results. This may seem draconian, but nothing else will matter if the presentation is cutting in and out or becomes unavailable altogether.

If your speakers have network issues, they might need to upgrade their router or connect via ethernet rather than Wi-Fi. Network issues can be tough to troubleshoot and there’s no silver bullet. But knowing there is an issue gives you the opportunity to get ahead of the problem before the event. 

Design an Engagement Strategy
Events aren’t useful if the audience isn’t paying attention. So, a top job for every event planner is to encourage interaction by providing easy-to-use engagement tools. If the audience knows that the speaker will be looking for feedback, creating breakout sessions, using polling technology, or holding a Q&A session at the end, they are more likely to tune in.

It is also important that all speakers tighten up their presentations because of the shortened attention span of online viewers. This was done at Microsoft’s Build Developers Conference with great success. If needed, planners can have long-winded or inexperienced speakers pre-record their presentations to ensure everything runs smoothly and on time. The trick is knowing which speakers are going to be better off the cuff and which ones will benefit from being able to hit re-record as many times as they like. 

Practice, Practice, Practice!
Give speakers a “green room” or a practice presentation where they can play around with their technical set-up, tools, videos, and slides. It gives them a chance to perfect their framing within the camera, make lighting adjustments, raise or lower the camera height to eye level, and confirm their look. It will help them to feel prepared, both psychologically and technologically. 

Michael-Balyasny-1.jpgAs the planner, it is imperative that you set your speakers up to succeed. By giving them the technology, tools, and space to practice, you ensure that they can engage with attendees—the best first step to a successful event. 

Michael Balyasny is CEO of Attendify, an event tech company focused on meeting apps, websites, event registration, and virtual meetings.

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